Costa Rica striker Alvaro Saborio.
If CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying ended ahead of this match, Costa Rica would be off to Brazil while Panama would be going on summer vacation.
Both sides have played five matches coming into Tuesday’s showdown in San Jose, and at the halfway point of the schedule, Costa Rica are second to the United States in The Hex with eight points—three places up on Panama, who are just two points adrift but second from bottom in the six-team table.
Panama have never progressed to a World Cup finals, but never before have they had a side quite as good as this. Already they have picked up a win against Honduras and a draw at home to Mexico, and their 2-0 defeat to the United States last week was their only loss of The Hex so far.
Costa Rica, meanwhile, partook in the World Cups of 1990 (where they made the Round of 16), 2002 and 2006 and, like Panama, have lost only to the United States in the fourth round of CONCACAF qualifying.
Tuesday’s match will have all sorts of implications for both teams’ fortunes, and following are a few things you should know about the contest ahead of kickoff.
How to Watch
Kickoff is at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT and viewers can see the match on either beIN Sport USA or beIN Sport en Espanol.
San Jose’s Estadio Nacional will host Tuesday’s match.
Built at a cost of just over $100 million, the ground was inaugurated just over two years ago and in a recent World Cup qualifier against Jamaica accommodated more than 32,000 spectators.
The temperature at kickoff will be 20 degrees Celsius and light rain is expected. (BBC)
Costa Rica are second in The Hex, having beaten Jamaica and Honduras, drawn Panama and Mexico and lost to the United States.
In two home matches Los Ticos have taken the maximum six points while outscoring opponents Jamaica and Honduras by a combined 3-0 margin.
Panama are fifth in the bracket, one point back of Honduras and the intercontinental playoff spot and two points back of both Costa Rica and Mexico. A win on Tuesday would see them leapfrog both.
In two matches away from home, Panama have drawn Jamaica and lost to the United States.
Costa Rica’s defense is stingy, with just eight goals conceded in 11 qualification matches so far. Christopher Menezes and Jhonny Acosta were just plain miserly against Mexico at the Azteca, disturbing their hosts to the point that striker Javier Hernandez was booked out of frustration.
Up front Jorge Luis Pinto’s side is led by the duo of Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz, with Alvaro Saborio available from the bench. Influential midfielder Celso Borges will likely start Tuesday’s match after failing to make the first XI but impressing upon introduction in the second half.
On the other side of the ball Panama have in their ranks the top active goalscorer in CONCACAF qualifying.
Blas Perez has bagged 10 goals so far for Los Canaleros but has found the back of the net just once in The Hex.
Like Costa Rica, Panama have five goals to show from their five matches in the fourth round, although all of them came in their first three matches. They were blanked by both Mexico and the United States in their last two outings.
Luis Tejada will be expected to start alone up top for Julio Dely Valdes’ side in San Jose but will be supported by the trio of Alberto Quintero, Anibal Godoy and Marcos Sanchez.